For the last four years, Kenyan farmer George Murithi has been growing pumpkins on his one acre farm in Isinya, some 60km from the capital Nairobi.

Each year, he has been farming the crop that is resilient to the semi-arid environment, rotating it with beans.


However, this season, Murithi who planted the pumpkins in January as usual hoping to start harvesting in April is grappling with a new challenge that he never anticipated.

For the last two weeks, thanks to the ongoing dry spell in the east African nation, birds have been flocking his farm in numbers feeding on the crop that he grows under drip irrigation.

“This is new to me. It is the first time in the years that I have grown pumpkins that I am experiencing such a phenomenon that is posing a threat to my business,” he said on Wednesday.

According to Murithi, at first thought he thought that the crop has been attacked by a certain pest when he saw the shoots partly eaten.

However, upon further examination, he realized that it is the birds that were causing the damage on his crops.

An agronomist who visited the farm explained to Murithi of the mysterious phenomenon upon scrutiny of the crop.

Apparently, the birds had turned to the stems and leaves of the succulent crop in search of water due to the lengthy dry spell.

As other parts of the east African nation, most rivers in the semi-arid area from where the birds normally get water are dry due to the sunny weather conditions that started in November 2018.
Therefore, they have to seek alternative sources of water, with Murithi’s crop that normally store water in its vines coming in handy.

“I have lost nearly half an acre of the crop to the birds and the solution is not cheap either,” he noted, adding that that he would have to stop growing the crop during the dry weather.

The farmer has covered nearly half-an-acre of his pumpkin farm with birds’ net, which cost him over 50,000 shillings (500 U.S. dollars), piling up on the losses from the eaten crop which he estimated at 300 dollars.

Murithi is among hundreds of Kenyan farmers who are currently grappling with several challenges brought about by the dry spell.

From predatory birds to pests like ants, mites and armyworms and diseases like East Coast Fever, both crop and animal keepers are feeling the heat.

“The hot weather has formented new challenges that farmers had never anticipated or faced in the past. These are definitely the effects of climate change,” said Beatrice Macharia, an agronomist with Agro-Point.

Macharia noted that the high temperatures provide perfect breeding grounds for some pests like spider mites, which attack an array of crops, from vegetables to fruits like strawberries.

“Farmers are spending twice as much as they do to try contain these pests that are not only eating the plants but also the fruits. The birds are not sparing fruits like pumpkin, strawberries and melons, which are succulent,” she noted.

According to her, it is worse for farmers because natural sources of water like rivers are currently dry, therefore, with no alternatives, birds and even insects are turning to the irrigated crops.

“In livestock, this is the time ticks and certain species of flies flourish because of the hot weather that make egg-hatching easier hence spreading diseases. Most farmers who have not vaccinated their animals especially in the rangelands have to spend a fortune treating East Coast Fever or babesiosis caused by ticks,” said Peter Oduor, an animal health specialist from Egerton University. Enditem


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